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Acute stress can be caused by media exposure to traumatic events

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Six or more hours of media exposure to a traumatic event can have long-term physical and psychological consequences that result from stress according to new research published by E. Alison Holman, associate professor of nursing science at the University of California at Irvine, and Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychology and social behavior, medicine and public health at the University of California at Irvine, in the Dec. 9, 2013, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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The researchers based their conclusions on the responses of a national sample of 4,675 adults to a questionnaire and physical testing two to four weeks after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing occurred.

People who watched six or more hours of continuous media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath of the event were nine times more likely to experience acute stress reactions than people who saw less coverage of the terrorist attack.

The researchers note that similar acute stress responses were found in people after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and graphic coverage of the Iraq War. People who viewed excessive media coverage of both events demonstrated higher levels of acute stress that could last as long as three years after the event.

Acute stress is characterized by hypervigilance, feeling on edge, avoiding reminders of a traumatic event, and experiencing intrusive thoughts that remind a person of the traumatic event.

The researchers note that the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders claims that media exposure is not a potential trigger for acute stress reactions in individuals that did not experience a traumatic event in person.

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